Today I have the pleasure of interviewing an old hand in the writing and publishing business, author Tom Johnson. Tom has written stories from a young age. He has been publishing his writing for more than twenty-two years and has over eighty books in publication. He grew up reading comic books and pulp fiction, becoming a collector in adulthood and his stories reflect the fascination that those books held for him. He has also written numerous nonfiction books and is currently involved in writing children’s stories. Please help me welcome Tom Johnson.
Kaye: Hi Tom. Although in the past, you’ve written and published many different genres, you are currently writing only children’s stories. So, let’s talk about that. Tell me a little about your stories.
Tom: My children stories are about 1k and meant as bedtime tales, and to be read in classroom or library settings. They are short stories with little morals to teach children something about life.
Kaye: Are they a series or stand alone?
Tom: They are a series, and published in anthologies about once a year. There have been four anthologies so far. I was invited to participate beginning in volume #3. The anthology is called Wire Dog Storybook. Here is the background. True story. A young girl, Ellen Walters, asked her father, David Walters, if she could have a dog, and he said, “No.” So she found an old wire hanger and shaped it to resemble a dog, and called it wire dog. David Walters was fascinated by her ingenuity and created the Wire Dog Storybooks. So the stories usually feature Ellen and Wire Dog, but always Wire Dog. Five of my stories have been published so far, and I’ve written three more for the 2018 yearbook when it comes out at the end of the year.
Kaye: What age group are they aimed at?
Tom: I feel that we should begin reading to our children by age one. With that in mind, my stories are aimed at the age group of 1 to 5. However, older children will enjoy the stories, as do adults.
To get a better idea of what Tom’s children’s stories are like, you can get a free copy of one here. They are short and can be read in only a few minutes.: Wire Dog Has An Ugly Mood Day – Or The House of 1000 Mirrors https://wiredogstories.com/2016/01/19/story-40-wire-dog-has-an-ugly-mood-day/
Kaye: What differences do you see between writing for children and writing adult fiction?
Tom: Adult fiction usually means, “no holds barred”, while writing children stories you want to stay away from violence, horror, and adult themes. Keep in mind, young children absorb what they hear quickly, and some themes could have an adverse effect on young minds. When writing for children we must keep this in mind.
Kaye: What appeals to you about writing for children?
Tom: Do you remember the old radio show for kids, Let’s Pretend ? It produced shows for children that acted out fairy tales and light adventures – nothing as harsh as today’s cartoons that are aimed at our youth. Well, I have the chance to import my love for adventure in tales easily understood by young people; children who some day may also experience that same love to pass on to their children. Stories that give our children a moral to live by, not “It’s clobbering time!” Or Pow! Bang! Boom! It’s something my mother did for me when I was little, and now I have the same opportunity, and I’m not going to pass it up.
You can get the Wire Dog books here:
Kaye: You have wanted to write for children since you were little and your mother used to read to you.
Tom: Oh, yes. I hope that mothers are still reading to their children. They learn at such a young age, and we’re missing an opportunity if we fail them when they’re young. They will never forget what they learn as children, it’s when their minds are growing and grasping at everything. I think one of the first words they learn is, “Why?”
Kaye: What were your favorite children’s stories?
Tom: Really, I would have to look them up in the book of fairy tales on my shelf. There were so many she read to me. Knights saving young damsels come to mind. I remember one particular fairy tale where the princess was on a glass mountain, and the young knight had to save her. She watched each day as a knight riding brown horse attempts to scale the glass mountain, then a knight on a white horse, and so on, until the final day when a knight riding a great steed scales the mountain, and we find out that he was the knight on the brown horse, the white horse, etc. It wasn’t the color of the horse, but the persistence of the knight that finally achieved the goal.
Kaye: In what ways do the stories you write emulate those favorites from your childhood?
Tom: Like the fairy tale I mentioned above, my stories will also have a similar moral – it’s not the color of the horse, or the knight’s armor, but his persistence that wins the hand of the princess. Do the right thing, for the right reason. Persevere. If you don’t succeed today, try and try again.
Kaye: You have written since you were a young man, for fifty some years, and you had your own small press for many years. Always, your life seems to have writing at the center of it. Looking back on your life, what does writing mean to you?
Tom: I think writing was always an escape to other worlds, other realms, and other dimensions. We could be anyone we wanted, go anywhere we wished, and experience great adventures. We create those worlds and people we want in them, and our heroes and heroines are who we want to be, or the friends we want beside us. We choose those things that mean the most to us. Whether we’re a cowboy or cowgirl, Conan or Xena, we bring the characters to life. That’s what writing means to me, to give life to my characters.
Kaye: How do you see the rise of digital publishing affecting authors of today?
Tom: Publishing has never been easier. When we were publishing the small press magazines, it was hands on. We did every aspect of the business, from reading, approving or rejecting, editing, set up and printing, then mailing to subscribers and bookstores that carried our magazines. Today we have Lulu and Amazon for all that. We just write, they publish. Anyone can be a writer or publisher now.
Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?
Tom: I had a dream one night. A young boy was in the woods dying when a strange being found him and comforted him as he passed. The strange being was an alien and I saw the saucer-shaped craft behind him. When I woke the dream stayed with me. Did the alien kill the boy? Why was the alien there? What was the boy doing in the woods? It wouldn’t let go of me. I wrote What Goes There from that dream. The boy was dying from snakebite and the alien took his pain from him so he could pass more easily. Then I made a mystery with the plot. The story is part of my book, These Alien Skies.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Tom: When I write, I don’t want to be disturbed. No music, no background noise at all. My work computer is in my bedroom. I close my door from all outside communication, telephone, wife, neighbors, etc. I have to be alone when I write.
Kaye: You’ve written over eighty books in many different genres over the course of your career. Which of your books would you say are your favorites? Why?
Tom: If we’re speaking of my fiction stories I would probably say my favorite is Guns of The Black Ghost, as it is my homage to Walter Gibson and his character The Shadow (remember him). The Shadow was one of my favorite radio dramas as a kid, and I met the creator of the character, Walter Gibson, in the mid-1970s and we were friends until his passing. I always wanted to write a Shadow novel, but copyright protection kept me from it, thus my own character, The Black Ghost came into being.
However, my non-fiction research books are probably my best sellers. I’ve written over half a dozen of them. A lot of work went into them. A lot of reading and studying, and I think it paid off, as fans have all bought the huge books for the data. These are books that don’t get thrown away, but have a special place on their bookshelves.
Kaye: So, tell us a little about your nofiction books. What is the subject matter and how did you come to write them?
Tom: As a pulp collector it was natural for me to become a historian. I had completed runs in many of the lead characters, thus had the opportunity to study the novels for research, identifying authors, plots, etc. At the time I was writing fiction and Introductions for ALTUS PRESS books, and the publisher wanted my research put into books. Some of those series were Secret Agent X Companion, Operator #5 Companion (History of The Purple Wars), The Phantom Detective Companion, The Black Bat Companion, Dan Fowler’s G-Men Companion, and Echoes 30. Several ran for twenty years, and 171 issues. Some not so long, but just as popular to the fan and collectors today. There may be others, my mind is slipping, but these were the big volumes. They covered the complete pulp series of each title. Echoes 30 covered conventions, pulp books, authors, artists, and publishers. All are in demand and have been good sellers.
Kaye: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why?
Tom: I’m a pantser. I never could understand why you needed to write a fifty-page plot outline, just write the darn book. Once the words start flowing you don’t want them to stop. And they will, if you’re outlining.
Kaye: What do you think is the single most important element in a story?
Tom: Characterization. Make your characters come alive. You want readers to connect to them, feel for them, and be drawn to them. The plot will work itself out, but if your characters aren’t real I don’t care how much of a plot you have, it will bomb.
Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
Tom: I don’t know that I would want to be rich and famous. What would be next? I want to always be reaching, always trying to entertain. If I set my goal for rich and famous I might forget about the entertainment and pleasure we get from writing. If I entertain one person, then I am already rich. Besides, we already have money, and fame is fleeting at best.
Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Tom: Write what you know. I’ve read a lot of books where the author is writing about something s/he knows nothing about, and it shows. I know information is at the tip of one’s fingers today, but if you haven’t truly experienced something you will come off as unbelievable if you try to write about the subject.
I want to thank Tom for joining us today on Writing to be Read and offering up some really great answers to my questions. I have really enjoyed having him. If you’d like to learn more about Tom Johnson or his books you can check out his website or his Amazon Author Page.
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